You know when you live in a certain area, and that area is known for a specific place or thing but you’ve never experienced those things for yourself? It would be like living in King of Prussia and never shopping at the mall. Zack lived in State College for eight semesters and one summer session and never once went to the Creamery. Blasphemy, I know.
Saturday night we hung out with our new friend Nick, who took us to two bars I’d never been to, all within a block and a half of our house. First, TC’s. A bar where guys sit outside, parked in a circle of fenced-in chairs. A bar that kind of looks like a rest stop. A bar where you can get $1 well vodka drinks, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EVERYDAY. A bar where there are scheduled drag shows four nights a week.
We heard clapping coming from inside and rushed into the doorway. It was like everything I had learned in WMST 250 (Sexual Identity Through the Lifespan) had come straight off the Powerpoints and breathed itself into life. The room was comprised of mostly two types of people. Straight women (bachelorette party) and transwomen (some single, some with dates), with the occasional sprinkle of a man. It’s not like I’ve never seen a drag queen or been in a gay bar before. I’ve spent time in Provincetown, Massachusetts, almost every summer since I was born and I did live in Manhattan for a short period of my life. This was different though. The show was small scale, in an intimate setting. There was no cover.
The queens came down from the stage and walked around the audience, lip-syncing to Pink, Tina Turner and Destiny’s Child. At one point I asked no one, “Is this Beyonce?” The host heard me and replied into the microphone, “Yes honey, yes it is.” I saw one bridesmaid say to the bride, “Oh my god, I’m having so much fun!” as she slipped a dollar bill into the hand of “Ashley Houston”, who knew every breath, sigh and stammer of lady Madonna herself. Nick, Zack and I were the only people dancing. $1 vodka specials? That’s like…that’s like college, dude.
I saw one transwoman eyeing up Zack. I looked at her.
No, just kidding. I looked at her, then looked at Zack again.
“Is he your boyfriend?” She asked.
“Yes, he is,” I said.
“He’s real cute.”
“Y’all make a gorgeous couple.”
And with that, we took the party to the Ripcord, the leather bar next to our apartment. I’m not exaggerating when I saw it’s next to our apartment. We share a parking lot. The only thing dividing our yards is a wooden fence.
I got ID’d for the second time since arriving in Houston. We walked past the dark and mysterious indoor bar, through the movie-watching room (no kidding) and onto the back patio, where there were men of all shapes, sizes and age (some dressed in nothing but two strips of leather). Nick introduced us to some people he knew, and I immediately got the twice-over from the only two women in the bar, who were from an organization called the National Leather Association.
One of the girls pulled me started giving me the shtick about the history, or rather herstory (shades of WMST 250) of leather. “It started getting popular around World War II…”
I nodded along. Fascinating. Another woman told me how nice it was to see another female at the Ripcord, then went on to ask me if I’ve ever had an interest in bondage. She started listing the pros of leather in the bedroom and its place in a healthy sexual relationship. The assless-chapped man behind the bar looked at me and shook his head. I was wearing grey skinny jeans, a black tank top and gold hoops. I thought I looked cool, but apparently not cool. Can’t please everyone, I suppose.
To be honest, I was under the impression that a leather bar in Texas meant gruff, scary men bearing lots of skin and guns. That wasn’t the case at all. All the people I met were fun and friendly. One even guarded the door when I went to the bathroom. There was no lock.
Next time we’re in State College I’m taking Zack for ice cream.